Interview: Professor from University in Eastern Sarajevo Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović

Interview: Professor from University in Eastern Sarajevo Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović


By Nevena Šarenac

Process of building trust in BiH is being formed on everyday interactions of ordinary people

Churches and religious communities in the former Yugoslavia have a great impact in building national consensus and awareness, and are of great cultural and spiritual significance. However, in the BiH public religion in past conflicts is perceived as a priori negative, while the peace capacity of churches and religious communities as institutions of memories are pushed into the background. After the war, BiH finds itself in a frozen conflict, in which various religious and ethnic tensions continue to thrive. Professor at the University of Eastern Sarajevo Zlatiborka Popov- Momčinović speaks on the impact of religion on the stabilization of the overall relations in BiH.

In your opinion, what is the role of churches and religious communities in the process of inter-ethnic reconciliation and transitional justice? What impact do they have on (post) conflict society?

Churches and religious communities had and continue to have huge impact, which unfortunately is not followed by some religious leaders and a considerable level of responsibility for their important role in conflicts as well as post-conflict society. From this position, it is necessary to criticize them and to recognize potential force in them for reconciliation and confidence building with regard to the high level of religiosity. Thus, for example, a regional initiative REKOM, which deals with research, among other things, of finding out the forensic truth of the past war, tends to involve religious communities and leaders in this story, and in addition to other social actors. One interesting thing that can be specified, for example, is the research that we did last year in BiH on this issue in cooperation with the University in Edinburgh. We are continuing it now with a larger sample, and it showed that citizens have expressed a degree of confidence in the contribution of religious leaders to the process of reconciliation. At the local level, this means that there is face-to-face communication with religious leaders. They have a much less degree of confidence in religious leaders that have a high position in religious communities, and which often act as national leaders, which citizens, regardless of whether they are religious or not, largely reject.

We are in a bad economic situation now with rampant corruption, which makes the situation dissatisfying. Extremist groups often appear in BiH. How do you evaluate the level of trust among people in BiH? 

I think that the process of reconciliation in BiH is being built, primarily at the level of everyday interaction between ordinary people and thanks to, among other things, civil society and critical intelligence. However, there is a lot of ambivalence around this. Some research shows that there is a high degree of social distance between the constituent peoples, but I think that the problem lies in the nature of quantitative methodology applied in such research and which does not go deeper into the meaning and interpretation and reinterpretation of its construction. Also, the big problem is that some political leaders and some media produce this condition with their discourse, which is then presented as something that is normal, which is derived from the nature of BIH society, and not something that is manufactured, constructed, and dosed above for daily politics and similar uses and abuses.

Can religion contribute to the stabilization of relations and be a key factor in reconciliation in BiH?

Yes, I touched upon that in the first question. I will refer to the great German theologian Jurgen Moltman, who, among other things, dealt with dealing with the past in post-war Germany. The question is what is religion and what did it promise to be? Religion in itself contains something utopian, transcendental, which aims to overcome existing restrictions and everything that contaminates human consciousness and relations.

Nationalist rhetoric of political leaders in BiH threatens to call into questions the foundations of the state. Individuals claim that in today’s BiH there is always an incitement of fear of differences-ethno-phobia. Do you agree with the statement that fear is a basic reflex, which controls the political relations between the three ethnic communities in BiH?

I fully agree. Fear is manufactured, dosed, used and abused in order to maintain the status quo, some state, some state of neither war nor peace, a state that is indeed a dire one.

In what way does the individual, who is unencumbered by nationalism, religious or any other differences, contribute to resisting nationalist rhetoric?

To remain just that-an individual. Someone who thinks critically, develops, questions themselves and their own stereotypes, is actively involved and confronts various forms of hate speech and does not fall for the collective call that easily slides, which we know from history, in totalitarianism and widespread devastation of humanity.